This was the question put to a total of 141 unpaid family and friend carers and professionals at our annual event in Stevenage on 26 September.
This year the podium was given over to three guest speakers who movingly shared their experiences of caring.
Joanne Boyne, 46, from Welwyn Garden City, far right, cares for her husband Steve, 43, who developed a brain tumour nearly three years ago.
She said: “I thought I could cope. It took me eight months before I asked for help. The key thing for me was knowing I was not on my own. Thanks to the Make a Difference service I could join my local pool and take my daughter swimming and the Passport has made it just that bit easier to get out and about. Without Carers in Hertfordshire I don’t think I could have managed.”
Julia Suslak, 56, from St Albans, centre, was often moved to tears when she spoke of the unexpected kindness she and her husband Nick had received while caring for their son Jack, 22.
She said: “Two things have helped me: accepting help and striving for normality. Support can come from the most unexpected sources and kind words when you are feeling low can really lift the spirit.
“I make a real effort to keep up activities: choir practice, Pilates and so on. It’s so tempting to say it’s too difficult but we must try to carry on.”
The final carer speaker was Tanya Hammond, left, 49, from Watford, who has looked after her mother Sylvia Shaw, 79, since she suffered a stroke. Tanya said juggling caring and a full-time job had taken her to a very dark place until she realised she must do something for herself.
She trained as a masseur, took up exercise again and became a Carer Trainer: “I feel useful again. I even make the time to have a meal out or coffee with friends which fills me with joy.”
The conference took as its theme Carers in Hertfordshire’s guiding principle, making carers count, giving us the chance to outline our work so far and hear what more can be done to improve the lives of carers.
CEO Michele Stokes, in her inaugural Annual Carers’ Event speech, said the charity was challenging the “stereotype of the 50 year old female carer” by identifying carers at an earlier age.
Michele highlighted just some of the ways we have made carers count over the past year up to March 2014:
- We have reached out to more adult and young carers than ever before and are on target to have 15,800 carers registered by March 2015
- 90% of carers who have received information and advice from us reported they felt better able to cope and less stressed
- 83 % of young carers said they felt less negative about their caring role.
Carers and health professionals were then split up into different workshops, all addressing the key question: “Do you feel counted as a carer?” This gave carers the opportunity to share their experiences, both good and bad, and decide which questions to put to a panel of health and social care experts.
The panel comprised, from left:
Michael Downing, former Carers in Hertfordshire Trustee, and Healthwatch Hertfordshire board member
Jacqui Bunce, Associate Director Strategy, East and North Herts CCG
Tim Anfilogoff, Integration Lead, Herts Valley CCG
Frances Heathcote, Assistant Director, Health and Community Commissioning at Hertfordshire County Council
Many of the issues raised centred on the Care Act which comes into force in April 2015 and Carers’ Assessments. One of the recurring concerns was that few carers had either been offered an assessment or knew how to go about asking for one.
Tim Anfilogoff said: “This isn’t about legislation, but about ways of working. We have to remember why we are doing this, the best way for you. It’s about finding the right support, at the right place and at the right time.”
All questions raised will now be used to help shape future support and services.
For more information on the Care Act and its impact on carers, click here.